Wondergat is one of South Africa’s most popular inland dive sites, but also potentially one of its most dangerous.
Wondergat is a dolomite sinkhole in the North West Province, about 30km south of Mahikeng (Mafikeng). It is a popular spot to gain some deep diving experience. Although there is not a lot of fish life here besides the Southern Mouth brooder and the Sharptooth Barbell which can often be seen, the walls of the caves are fascinating and filled with magnificent formations. Minimum dive qualification is Advanced when accompanied by an experienced Cave qualified guide but a Cave 1 qualification of your own would be better and it is always advisable to dive here with someone who knows the site and has dived here before.
An underwater torch is necessary as the cave is dark, although guide ropes are around to assist your dive, this will help you navigate your way through the caves more easily. There is about five to ten meters of visibility depending on the amount of algae and the temperatures are usually between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius.
Despite being one of South Africa’s most popular dive sites, diving here is not for the beginner or lone diver. It’s a dive destination for groups of advanced divers. It is also a training site for dive instructors and technical divers.
A water filled cavern with a roof until the roof caved in, Wondergat still has some deep overhang areas on the sides that can make it a lethal dive if you try to surface in the wrong place. It has also claimed the lives of free divers who have dived too deep.
The hole is getting shallower though. In the 1970’s it was 70 meters at its deepest point and now it is 58 meters as the ‘hole’ slowly fills itself. Still, Wondergat still has many years of being a wondrous ‘mystery hole’.
Some unique features are underwater Stromatolites and an endemic species of Tilapia, found nowhere else. There are a number of other fish species to be seen and the water is clear, typical of dolomite, though not as clear as at the nearby Marico Oog dive site – famed for its crystalline water.
Diving is done along buoy lines on two grids – one north (38m) and one south (36m). Features of the dive include the Memorial Stones – commemorating those who have died, and the Taskforce Board warning you not to go deeper. There is also a cave dive for very experienced divers.
It is essential to dive with torches – one per diver is enforced for safety reasons. Water temp. can get to 14 degrees near the bottom, and rules are strict to prevent more of the fatalities that marked the 70’s and 80’s, and so ensure an unforgettable fresh-water diving experience. Emergency Oxygen is available, the site has full cell reception and there are medical facilities and emergency services in Mafikeng and Lichtenburg, 60km to the south.
There is very basic camping accommodation at Wondergat, but with electrical points. There is also a small canteen, and full diving services and supplies including compressor and air bank, blending panel for nitrox diving, BC’s and cylinders.
This article by Jacques Bezuidenhout, PADI MSDT give great insight into diving Wondergat.